Info and Advice

Basic Wound Care

There is nothing more ghastly than to see your beloved horse with a severe laceration. Unfortunately it is an experience that most horse owners have been through. Horses are notorious for injuring their legs. The approach taken in caring for the wound can have a significant influence on the outcome and the prognosis for a healthy horse.

Horses have very bony legs compared to humans. We humans have muscles and a good blood supply down to our toes, but horses do not. The legs of a horse are literally made up of skin, bone and other soft tissue but no muscle. Injuries to these areas are often severe and usually heal quite slowly. This is due to the poor blood supply and the lack of protection that the muscle provides. The blood supply aids in the eradication of infection and the rate and quality of the wound repair.

Ask yourself the question ‘should I get a vet’s help’, the answer is generally never easy. The horse has very delicate structures that, if affected, can result in the horse being euthanized for humane reasons. Joints are an example of a structure that most people are familiar with. Penetration of the structure can introduce bacteria. The resulting infection causes pain that is intolerable to the horse. Knowing this then, it is important that when faced with a wound we consider these factors.

  1. Location: The location of the wound is important. If it involves an important structure such as a tendon, bone or joint the severity of the wound increases.
  2. Severity: An injury that looks severe to you, is generally severe and seeking treatment is critical.
  3. Contamination: As mentioned above horses do not deal well with infection. A contaminated wound will have a higher bacterial load and this will require cleaning.
  4. Lameness: Horses that incur an injury may have different severities of lameness. From walking well to being non-weight bearing lame. If the horse is unable to walk it is very important that you seek treatment as soon as you can.
  5. Patient Compliance: The injury will hurt the horse. Despite our best intentions the horse doesn’t generally understand that we are trying to help them. Some respond to being in these situations dangerously. With the aid of veterinary drugs, a vet can usually calm the horse down to allow a safe examination and treatment. It is important that you don’t place yourself in a situation that you may get hurt. One patient is enough!  
  6. Vaccination Status: Tetanus is an infection that is totally preventable. However once the horse has tetanus, it is extremely difficult to treat and often results in death. It is important to ensure your horse is vaccinated for this disease. 

After seeking the assistance of a vet the job of treating this wound does not stop after they have left the property. Treating a wound is a long term commitment.  The severity of the injury will determine the duration, and the ongoing care needed. In the majority of cases the vet will have discussed with you an appropriate treatment program. This program could include bandages, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic medications.  The vet may also have informed you to give the horse some ‘box rest’, which is confinement to a small area limiting its movement. Bandaging is an important technique that is critical to reducing the level of contamination and swelling and helps create an environment enhancing wound repair. Describing how to bandage a horse is complex. If you are unfamiliar with bandaging a horse it is best not to attempt it untill you have been shown how to do so. It is important that the directions for medications are followed carefully as an overdose can be dangerous or failing to finish a course can make the medication ineffective. Following the vet’s instructions is important to achieve the goal of a speedy recovery.

During the recovery period, if the injury doesn’t appear to be healing, is deteriorating or the horse is still lame it is important to discuss this with your vet. There are several complications that can arise from an injury.  At the end of the day a simple phone call to discuss a concern is easier than dealing with a small problem that has been left to deteriorate over many weeks.
If you feel like your horse needs veterinary attention please, for your horse’s sake, don’t hesitate to call. Our friendly and experienced vets will be only too happy to help.

Dr Carl Barker B.V.Sc